James Bond could charm any woman ... but is charm now dead?
"There's already a Viagra for women. CASH."
That comment was a response to my recent writing about a new sex-drive stimulant for women currently being developed in America. In fact, that was all this guy wrote in his email to me.
"How charming," I thought when I read it, all three syllables dripping in sarcasm.
How charming this man seems! How charming his attitude to women! How charming to think there are people out there who think like that about people like me!
Of course, there is absolutely nothing charming about it. And that's exactly the problem.
Since when did men become so charmless?
This question was recently posed for a feature in US journal The Atlantic. Beginning with the idea that men had lost the grace they once possessed, the article went on to raise George Clooney as the sole surviving public exemplar of charm. That Clooney was singular, and aging, indicated the severity of the issue according to the author.
But are Aussie Prince Charmings also endangered? Indeed, did they ever exist at all?
American men have tended to top local lads in the charm stakes. It wasn't just nylons and straight teeth that saw them seduce so many Australian women during World War Two. Their good manners played a big part. They still do. A family friend whose work in Darwin has seen her cross paths with more than a few Marines puts it succinctly:
"Aussie blokes are brutes. You can't deny it. They just aren't raised the same. The US troops say 'please' and 'thank you' and call me ma'am. It's darling. And they know how to dance. And they know how to court."
It’s true that charm plays a big part in courtship. Charm – that smooth, svelte, power to delight – helps ease even the wonkiest woo. An elegant approach to a dinner date, for example, is far more likely to yield positive results than a clunky, junky, awkward ‘wanna get a feed?’.
Yet this is how many Aussie men go about their romantic business. Not all, but many. And there’s something very nice and down-to-earth about this. But there’s nothing nice about the charmless attitude to women displayed in my reader’s letter, nor the comments filed to the corresponding article in the same vein.
“Isn't there already a female libido generator? Money & Power? Wait, if they made strawberry scented $100 bills that might work too.”
“Female Viagra = Money.”
“What would be good is a pill to reduce a woman's need to nag.”
However it’s not just men behaving in a charmless fashion. There is a lack of charm among women too. Indeed, my sarcastic reaction to the charmless commentary is itself quite unattractive. Consider the origin of the word, from the Greek sarkasmos, “tear flesh, bite the lip in rage, sneer”, and you’re left with a not very pretty picture. Yet sarcasm - lowest form of wit, bitter and caustic – has become a very dominant form of cultural expression.
So are we living in a charmless society then?
Some say the rise of sarcasm – as proven through the success of The Onion, The Daily Show – has been brought about by the demise of good old-fashioned Christian church-going, and the good old-fashioned manners that went with. Yet irony can be traced back to the 16 century, and even Austen wrote sarcasm into the mouths of her most cultivated characters.
It’s also worth noting – as Benjamin Schwarz does in The Atlantic – that charm itself isn’t necessarily a lovely thing. There’s an element of manipulation inherent in charm, which is offensive when uncovered. And we can’t ignore the fact that Prince Charming’s charm depended on his ability to save the damsel in distress. His elegance was wrapped up in gender inequality, and so it looks offensive by today’s standards.
But despite this, PC’s charm also relates to the good manners he no doubt would have employed, the basic kindness and civility that he would have shown, and a way with words equal to his way with cutlery at the dinner table and a waltz around the room. The key to his charm and Clooney’s charm - or my grandfather’s for that matter - is as much about social grace as anything else.
The kind of social grace I sometimes struggle to find in our culture today. Whatever happened to charm, and can we have it back please?
Do you think Prince Charming is an endangered character? Is this a good or bad thing? Are Australian men less charming than others? Are Australian women deserving of charm? Do you consider yourself to be charming, and why?